Mary Barra, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the automaker’s main office will remain in the Renaissance Center, the centerpiece of the city’s skyline just across the Detroit River from Canada.
"Our headquarters will always be in Detroit, in the RenCen," she said, using the name given to the complex by locals. "Right now the plan is for it to be at the Renaissance Center. That’s our home," she said.
Barra qualified her remarks, saying she can’t predict what will happen in five, 10 or 15 years.
She also said the company has to look at its space needs now that many white-collar employees are staying at home much of the work week on a hybrid home-and-office schedule.
The company takes up about 1 1/2 of the RenCen’s towers, which have seen little pedestrian traffic for years. Much of GM’s work force, including product development and engineering, is north of the city at an updated 1950s technical center in suburban Warren. After GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, the company considered moving the headquarters there.
"As we move to having more of a hybrid work structure, we have to look at what’s the right space," Barra said.
GM is still evaluating whether the hybrid model is viable for those who can do their jobs remotely. Like many CEOs, Barra wonders if working from home will still allow for collaboration and for reinforcement of a corporate culture. "There are huge benefits to being in the office," she said. "I think we’ve got to make sure we have the right balance of collaboration and interaction to make sure that two, three, four, five years from now, we still are maintaining the culture that we think is so important for the company," she said.
Whether hybrid work is permanent, she said, depends on the company and industry. At GM, people have gotten used to the flexibility of working from home. Although workers don’t need to be at the office every day at the same time, teams of workers do need time together, she said.
Barra also hinted at that the company is exploring riverfront development opportunities with the city. The city is expanding a riverfront trail that will run from the south side of downtown to a bridge that connects to an island park called Belle Isle.
"I think the riverfront is a gem," Barra said "The Riverwalk keeps getting voted one of the best in the country. So if there’s opportunities that we can improve that area and do the right thing for the city, we will."
The Renaissance Center was built by Henry Ford II, who formed a coalition in the 1970s in an effort to reinvigorate Detroit’s downtown. GM bought the complex in 1996 and renovated it, moving its headquarters there from an area north of downtown.